Further hike in taxes and prices of tobacco products will help reduce smoking in African countries, experts at a key meeting on tobacco taxation have said.
Organised by the World Health Organisation, the two-day meeting in Kigali aims at raising awareness of the role of tax and price measures in meeting public health objectives, and improving the understanding of the participating countries on the development of effective tobacco tax policies.
Participants are also expected to share best practices from model countries on effective tobacco tax policies and identify specific challenges to tax policy change and recommend areas of technical assistance to overcome the challenges.
The meeting attracted more than 50 participants from select African countries, including Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, and hosts Rwanda.
Also in attendance are different WHO tobacco taxation experts.
Addressing the participants, Dr Olushayo Olu, the WHO country representative, said serious tobacco control measures are highly needed in Africa since tobacco consumption is on the rise.
He cited taxation as one of the most efficient measures that can be put in place.
“The problem of tobacco consumption used to be in developed countries but lately it has shifted to Africa which accounts for 70 per cent of tobacco production and consumption globally. Tobacco kills more than six million people every year globally, which means we have to take serious action. It has been proven that increasing tobacco prices and taxes is one of the effective measures to reduce tobacco consumption,” he said.
Tobacco use was the second leading risk factor for all deaths worldwide in 2000 and is a significant risk factor for six of the eight leading causes of death globally, according to WHO.
For the specific case of Rwanda, according to the Non-Communicable Diseases Risk Factor Survey 2013/14, the adult smoking prevalence stands at 13 per cent.
The demographic and health survey 2010 indicates that tobacco use prevalence in Rwanda among men is 16.1 per cent and 3.6 per cent among women.
For the youth, tobacco use prevalence ranges between 11.5 per cent and 13.3 per cent for boys, and 9.5 per cent for girls.
The total sale of cigarettes in Rwanda in 2014 was 46.5 million packs.
Of the 11.458 million people in the country, 56.44 per cent or 6.467 million are adults. Given the adult smoking prevalence rate at 13 per cent, the number of adult smokers in Rwanda is 840,674, according to a survey.
With 46.5 million packs of total sale in 2014, per smoker annual cigarette consumption is 930 sticks.
Marie Muhimpundu, the head of non-communicable diseases department at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, said tobacco consumption increases the risks of suffering from NCDs by up to 80 per cent.
“And these diseases are expensive to treat. So we advise our people not to use tobacco. It is better to prevent than to treat,” she said.
Emmanuel Nkurunziza, head of taxation department at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, believes increasing taxes on tobacco products will have a big impact on reduction of its consumption.
However, Nkurunziza added that it is not the only way to fight the problem.
“Studies have shown that increasing tobacco prices by 10 per cent will reduce consumption by 8 per cent in low and middle income countries. However, this policy alone can’t fight tobacco consumption if not supplemented with other measures, especially continuous sensitisation of the public on the consequences of tobacco consumption,” he said.
Nkurunziza said the ministry was yet to decide on how much tax to increase on tobacco products in next financial year’s budget as it is a decision that needs consultations since tax increases may affect revenue.
“But we will not be afraid of losing tax revenue since it will mean that tobacco consumption will have reduced considerably, which is good for the population,” he said.
Presently, a packet of Intore (local brand) costs Rwf1,000, while Dunhill (imported) costs Rwf2,000.